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DADE CITY — For the past three seasons, J.P. Gamez has been a leader for Pasco on the mat.
Never misses practice, runs every night. If he has something to say, you had better listen.
Gamez’s accomplishments for the Pirates are well-chronicled: 145 wins, numerous tournament victories and a third-place medal at state. He may be the most impressive grappler the program has produced except for one thing: he has yet to join the exclusive club of Pasco state champions.
It is a group Gamez intends to join in his senior campaign.
Gamez would be among Brian Cole (1994), Ken Zdrojewski (1996), Chris Hancock (1997), Tye Reedy (2001), Tanner Orr (2003), and Eric Stroud (2008) as the only Pirates to stand atop the podium at states.
“Knock, knock, knock,” Pasco coach Mark DeAugustino said. “I don’t like to put state champion expectations on any of my guys, but it’s like the (Pittsburgh) Steelers say. We have ‘Six-burgh’ right now (with six state titles) and he’s looking for No. 7.”
Not only is that goal reachable, but it was an eyelash away just 10 months ago in Lakeland when Gamez reached the state semifinals as a junior. Squaring off against Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons’ Jamal Morris, Gamez fell by one point. Morris went on to win gold over Tampa Bay Christian’s Chase Singletary.
“Something like that will definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth,” DeAugustino said. “I imagine that’s why he trains as hard as he does.”
Twin brother Jamel Morris of Cardinal Gibbons is back for his sophomore season. He has bumped up to 120 pounds like Gamez. If the Pasco star is going to make history, it seems it will have to be by overcoming one of the Morris twins at state. Currently, the Cardinal Gibbons lightweight is the lone wrestler ranked ahead of Gamez in Class A.
The biggest difference in competition this season will be Gamez’s move to 120 pounds. In his prep career he has competed at 112, and he has only experienced success.
This weekend’s 30th Kiwanis Invitational at Hernando will be a test of his mettle at that difficult weight class. Even as an elite grappler at 112 pounds Gamez has never won the individual title at the first big North Suncoast tournament on the schedule, and the bracket will be no easier this time around.
“He looks forward to the big matches,” DeAugustino said. “If you saw him train, you’d see that he just won’t be denied. The big stage doesn’t bother him anymore.”
Fivay’s Sean Speer, Gulf’s Forrest Swartsel, Tampa Christian’s Tommy Fretwell and Springstead’s Stephen Pavao are among the potential state qualifiers projected to be among the field in Brooksville on Friday.
With a record of 6-0 with six pins, Gamez has started his senior season much like the rest of his time on the mat, but he’s not worried about how he starts.
He’s thinking about he’s going to finish.
30th annual Kiwanis Invitational
Where: Hernando High, Brooksville
When: Friday – Weigh-ins, 1 p.m.; first round, 3 p.m. Saturday – Restart, 10 a.m.; finals, 6 p.m.
Teams: Belleview, Gainesville Buchholz, Bloomingdale, Central, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Gulf, Hernando, Hudson, Jefferson, Land O’Lakes, Lecanto, Lake Gibson, Fivay, Pasco, Mitchell, Nature Coast, North Marion, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Robinson, Springstead, Tampa Bay Christian, Trinity Catholic, Wesley Chapel, West Port, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills
The skinny: One season after winning its first state crown, Springstead is looking for a sixth consecutive Kiwanis title. Standing in the way is Lake Gibson. They are the top teams in Class 2A according to Scout.com. Springstead is coming off a sixth-place finish at the Cougar Invitational at Durant last weekend.
106 pounds: Kyle Norstrem, Tampa Bay Christian; 113: Skylar Moody, Lake Gibson; 120: J.P. Gamez, Pasco; 126: Jordan Rivera, Springstead; 132: Will Ruiz, Nature Coast; 138: Brandon Jorge, Lake Gibson; 145: Sean Redman, Springstead; 152: Cody Ross, Springstead; 160: Nick Popolillo, Wesley Chapel; 170: Conor Ross, Springstead; 182: Joe Corrin, River Ridge; 195: Thomas Gupton, Springstead; 220: Mike Hahn, Fivay; 285: John Dreggors, Springstead